I prayed again that God would “use” me in his kingdom, that I would be in tune with his plan for me now. Perhaps it is the knowledge that so many around me have been impacted by Covid-19. A dear friend’s mother recently passed away. The passionate Godly dean of my college passed away from complications of Covid. The mother of a church friend also passed away from Covid. I am reminded that our time to impact others is limited as well, and we need to make the most of it.
God uses those who make themselves available. I try to pay attention but I know I sometimes miss opportunities meant for me. I don’t want to waste these precious days, and I need to walk closely with him to hear his voice. This reminds me of another time when God paired me up with a friend, who helped me see the purpose God had for me at that moment. Let me share this ultimately beautiful story I call “God’s Special Delivery Parcel.”
Computer Geeks Together
Ben’s classroom was two down from mine where we both taught at the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base. He and I were part of the first wave of teachers who received computers at our ESL teaching job back in the early 90’s — so naturally we gravitated to each other’s rooms, comparing notes on how to do this or that on the computer. Gradually, I got to know this gentle older man with the lopsided grin and eyes that seemed to smile a lot. He had the heart of a traveler just like me. We’d both been turned away from joining the Peace Corps- me because of my vision and he because of past melanoma. We also shared a fondness for language, namely Spanish and Japanese. I had lived in these cultures and was the storyteller; he listened and in turn, I read the poetry he translated into these languages. Rich moments to savor at the end of a busy teaching week.
In 1996, I left that job and eventually moved to the UAE. I learned Ben retired about six months after I left. Once when I returned to visit San Antonio, I decided to look up his number in the phone book. There was his name in tiny print! Though no one answered that day, I had gotten something precious for myself – his family’s address! I kept in touch from time to time after that, and I heard from him, too — just a few simple cards with a paragraph or two written in Spanish encouraging me in my travel writing. These cards always brought a smile to my face.
Some Bad News
I hadn’t heard from Ben in some time when an email finally came saying he had been in and out of the hospital six times in the past year and a half. His melanoma had returned. I felt my breath catch in my throat. That day, I tried to encourage him by sharing with him how God alone could heal him and give him peace in such discouraging moments. I felt an urgency to pray for him and give him hope. I sent him songs that brought me peace when I’d been in the hospital and my friends and I prayed for him and his wife. I was so touched when once I sent him a simple song, and he made the effort to translate it into Spanish. He told me he simply didn’t have the energy anymore to do that so I knew he had made a special effort to do that for me. I didn’t know if he was a believer or not, but we continued to pray for him, and God’s hand in his life.
When I returned to San Antonio, I called his home and Maudi, his wife, answered. She sounded flustered as she told me Hospice had arrived that day and it was almost more than she could bear. I could feel the tears form as I thought about the enormity of what she must be feeling. Yet she put Ben on the phone, and his voice, a whisper, came through to my end. I told him we were praying for him and his family and God loved him.
A short time later that day as I searched for teaching materials to take back with me to UAE, I found a poster with the 23rd Psalms inscribed on it with a vivid picture of sheep and green, green pasture, a child’s poster. I thought how strange it was that I should encounter such a poster at that moment and I thought of Ben immediately. But I didn’t know if it would scare him to receive it because he was so close to death, so I took it back with me to the UAE. Once there, I felt an immediate urgency to send it back to Ben in San Antonio. Was this my imagination? My friend, Lulu, said no. It was God planting direction in my heart.
A Mailing Tube is Found!
That night, Lulu and I went off in search of a mailing tube. We asked at several book stores and couldn’t find any. Discouragement set in. But Lulu said, “We can’t give up!” In the next shop, she saw something out of the corner of her eye. It was a mailing tube! She saw it tossed haphazardly under the desk of the cash register in a bookstore, and she quickly asked if we could have it. Once the clerk understood what we wanted, she handed it over to us and our hearts rejoiced! I went on to search for brown paper to cover the handwriting scrawled across the tube but could find nothing. Then an idea struck me, and I went to the local corner store and bought some cheerful yellow contact paper that children cover their books in. There! Satisfied that would brighten up their day, I posted a short note of explanation and said a prayer that the poster would encourage, not frighten them. Relieved to have it sorted out, I mailed it the very next afternoon.
A few weeks later, it came to my mind to call Ben and his wife to see how he was doing. I don’t usually make international calls except to my mother but something nudged me to call him and hear his voice.
Maudi answered the phone, and she told me an incredible story: a week earlier they had been playing the Jesus music I sent them and it had been a quiet morning. She seemed to know that the end was near for Ben. She said she didn’t know how he would face it. Would he fear it? Maudi bent her head and prayed desperately for her husband; at that moment, she needed to know he was a child of God. She begged God for some kind of confirmation.
While she was praying, the mailwoman who had already come to their house that morning, rang their doorbell. “Mrs. Jones,” she said, “This came for you today and I forgot to leave it.” She handed over the cheerful yellow poster tube.
Maudi thanked her and returned to her husband. “Ben. Amy has sent something to you. Let’s see what it is.” She couldn’t believe it when she opened up the parcel and found the child’s poster. They read the explanation inside and then they read the 23 Psalm out loud together. As she saw Ben smile, she realized these words seemed to bring a peace to him. “I’m going to put this poster over here where you can see it.,” she said softly. The vibrant picture of the sheep and the green, green pasture was clearly visible to Ben from his bed.
Maudi continued the story, tearfully, “Just moments later, Ben slipped away from his pain and the draining struggles he had been living through those long months of his cancer – and into the arms of a loving and welcoming Jesus. That poster was a blessing.” Maudi said she wept as she realized how that poster had reached out to them both and given her confirmation that her dear Ben was indeed a child of God.
I discovered an unforgettable lesson about God’s detailed and very intimate plans for our lives. I saw then how he had been building up to this incredible moment from the time Ben and I had both gotten the computers way back in 1991 and our friendship had begun. God’s timing is infinitely precious, so much ahead of our own as He weaves together the events of our lives to be ready for that single moment of glory to reveal to us. That cherished answer to a prayer through God’s own special delivery. The unsurpassed peace He promises us. A knock on the other side of the door. A bright yellow poster tube. And an obedient heart.
There is no question in my mind that God used the poster exactly as Maudi had said. He used Lulu to help me follow through in getting the poster back home.
God does hear our heartfelt cries. It is then He reveals His deep love as He displays His handiwork, in those significant moments of our lives. It seems to me He links our lives together in that lush pasture with still waters running alongside it, and our souls – like lambs filled with want — are thus restored each in His own perfect fashion. Ben sought peace; Maudi longed for final confirmation, and I had pleaded with God to be used. It all came together with His own Special Delivery Parcel.
Making Our Lives Count
This instance always reminds me of how he gifts each person with specific talents or gifts along with promptings. Dr. Charles Stanley, one of my mentors, always says “Obey God and leave all the consequences to him.” I often wonder how the story would have ended had I sent the child’s poster to Ben when I was in San Antonio. I wish I had had the confidence to do it on my own. But God had a plan to bring the best out of my tentative purchase anyway. He gave me a second chance. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know now that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” He brought about a wonderful ending to that story.
`I think as 2020 rolls to a shaky close, whether we celebrate the birth of Jesus in the confines of our home or with a group of believers, he sends a cloud of witnesses to each us – those both living and who have passed on – to remind us our time on earth is to be purposeful. So again, I pray, God use me.